Greetings, fellow eschatologists! Welcome back to the series on the book of Revelation. This four-part series will focus on Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In Revelation chapter 1, we studied John’s vision of the glorified Christ. Jesus said to John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” Then Jesus began to give a message for each of the seven churches, which John obediently wrote down. Keep reading to learn more about the seven churches.
REVELATION 2 AND 3
First in a Four-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
THE MESSAGES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
The second and third chapters of Revelation contain the seven messages from Jesus to the seven churches. Each of the seven messages contains a greeting. The greeting starts out by emphasizing certain features John saw in his vision of the glorified Christ. The features that are highlighted (eyes like a flame of fire, a double-edged sword, the stars in His hand) mostly correspond with the individual messages to the seven churches. All the churches were given a status report of where they were spiritually. He praised them for their strong points and then pointed out where they were lacking spiritually. All but two churches received a negative report. Lastly, each message to the churches ended with a closing which promised a reward for those who overcame.
1) The Church of Ephesus
The city of Ephesus was founded between 1,500–1,000 BC. By the time of the Christian era, it was under Roman control and had grown into one of the most prominent cities of the ancient world. At that time, Ephesus had a population of 250,000 people, making it the city with the second largest population in the Roman Empire. The apostle Paul ministered in the city before the apostle John. The city played a key role in helping to spread Christianity to the world.
Rev. 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
To the saints in the church of Ephesus, Jesus let them know this message was coming from the One that holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks in the midst of the lamp stands. He is holding them in the strength of His right hand and is in their midst.
Rev. 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Jesus praised the saints at Ephesus for their work for the Lord. And He praised them on “how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars….” This reveals to us an interesting problem this group of believers had experienced. They were being infiltrated by false believers, people that claimed to be one of them but were not. It says they “tried them,” meaning they tested them to see whether they were genuine. And they actually exposed them to be liars. We aren’t told why these false apostles had tried to infiltrate their group, but we can safely conclude that these false believers were kicked out of the church. No doubt, they were there to cause trouble.
Christian gatherings being infiltrated by spies is a burden believers in tyrannical nations have had to suffer. Throughout Christian history, oppressive governments have sent agents posing as seekers to infiltrate Christian meetings. Sadly, many believers through the centuries have suffered the fate of being arrested, or even worse, due to these infiltrators. In fact, the famous William Tyndale was done in by a false believer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In 1536, William was betrayed by a man who had infiltrated William’s circle by pretending to be a “Bible lover” as they were called in that day. Because of this man’s betrayal, Tyndale was arrested, imprisoned, and then finally burned at the stake. Tyndale’s crime? He translated the Bible into the common language of the people—English. For that, England’s King Henry the 8th had him killed. Unlike Tyndale, the believers at Ephesus were able to expose the false believers that had infiltrated their group.
Jesus praised the patience of the Ephesian Christians, meaning they were steadfast in their faith in Jesus. In spite of the persecution coming against them, they had “not fainted,” meaning they didn’t give up, they kept going.
Rev. 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. 6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Even though they were still true to the faith and had not given up, they had, as Jesus said, “left their first love.” What exactly does it mean that they had “left their first love”? The Greek word for the word “love” here is agape and it means “brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence.” Leaving their first love resulted in their not doing “the first works.” They were admonished to “repent, and do the first works.” Since correcting it was a matter of changing their behavior by doing the first works, we can conclude that “losing their first love” was more than simply addressing an emotional deficit. This was so important that Jesus said if they didn’t repent, He would remove their candlestick out of its place. That is a severe consequence. Remember, the candlesticks symbolized the churches. The Lord was telling them that the anointing would be lifted off that church.
The Overcomer’s Reward
Rev. 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
The first reward promised to the overcomer is the right to eat from the tree of life. We see the tree of life in the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, where after the fall of mankind, it was no longer available. But then at the end of the Bible in Revelation, we see the tree of life will be been restored to the believers. In Revelation 22:2, the fruit from the tree of life will be for the healing of the nations. In Genesis 2:9, the fruit from the tree of life in the Garden of Eden provided everlasting life. This overcomer’s reward is the promise of eternal life.
2) The Church of Smyrna
Smyrna was a major city north of Ephesus. Its roots go back as far as 3,000 BC. Today, it is the modern city of Izmir in Turkey. A fun fact to know about Smyrna is that one of its most famous residents was its beloved Bishop Polycarp who was martyred in 153 AD. It is said that he was one of John’s disciples. The Romans accused Polycarp of being an atheist; they considered those that did not worship their Roman gods to be atheists. He was arrested for refusing to worship the Roman emperor. When they brought Polycarp, age 86, to the arena where he was to be burned, a voice from heaven spoke out and said, “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” Those near Polycarp heard the voice and were astonished. Polycarp was tied to the stake, and when the fire was lit, it miraculously arched out and did not touch Polycarp. Under orders, the Roman soldiers speared him to bring about his death. Polycarp was the twelfth martyr in Smyrna.
Rev. 2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; these things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.
To the saints in the church of Smyrna, Jesus let them know that this message was coming from the One who is the first and the last, who was dead and is alive. Jesus is the one who possesses eternal life and is alive forevermore. After His death, He arose and became the firstborn from the dead. Romans chapter six tells us that because of Christ, we are dead to sin but alive through Jesus Christ our Lord: “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:9–11). Because of His death and resurrection, we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.
The Praise and Warning
Rev. 2:9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
The church at Smyrna is one of two churches that did not receive a spiritual rebuke. The Christians in Smyrna were experiencing severe persecution from the Jews. Jesus said, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)….” At first, it seems Jesus was contradicting Himself when He said He knew their poverty and then said they were rich. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t referring to money and possessions when He called them rich. He was referring to their spiritual condition. They were rich “in Him.”
Jesus had strong words for the Jews that were persecuting them saying, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (v. 9). They were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus by the local Jews. He said these Jews were committing blasphemy for even saying they were Jews. Because of their evil behavior, He said they were of the “synagogue of Satan.”
As a result of the persecution, Jesus warned them that some of the believers in Smyrna would be imprisoned for ten days. He promised a crown of life to those who were faithful unto death, meaning that some of them would face death. But like Jesus, their martyrdom would not be the end. In Christ Jesus, they have eternal life.
The Overcomer’s Reward
Rev. 2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
The believers in Smyrna that would face death were no doubt comforted to hear the next overcomer’s reward. Those who overcome will escape the “second death.” Revelation 20:6 says blessed are those who take part in the first resurrection because the second death will have no power over them. Who are those that take part of the first resurrection? They are those who will reign with Christ, those who have been born again.
What exactly is the second death and who will suffer it? According to Revelation 21:8, the second death is the lake of fire: “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Only those people whose names are not found in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.
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